Sermon – 7 March 2004 – Abram's line or Jesus's Brood

One of the interesting revivals in recent years has been the huge increase in people looking for their ancestors.

Geneology ? family trees and all that, has never been more popular. Many people have got used to the idea that you can search for anything on the internet and use it to try to do research into where their family comes from. Indeed, so popular has this become, that I know of a number of clergy who work in churches a little older than our own, who have had to add disclaimers to their church websites telling people the limits of their own church records and explaining that it is not really feasible for clergy to spend all their time entering the registers of the churches for the last few hundred years into computers.

The search for ancestors is a strange thing for something so modern as the internet to encourage, when you think about it.
Some people are remarkably successful in looking for their predecessors. Others lose the trail fairly quickly. My guess is that there are some people here who are interested in all of this.

I?ve no idea what motivates you, if you are doing this ? it is not something which I am that interested in ? by and large I am more interested in the future than in the past. I don?t really know what motivates people to do this, but there must be some kind of sense that by looking into the past we will find something of ourselves. By looking into the past, perhaps we will find out who we really are.

This morning, the reading from Genesis which we had takes us back to the head of a rather large family tree. For the family of religious people who include the Jewish people, the Muslims and all the Christians look back at Abraham and place him fairly and squarely at the top of the tree.

Abraham (or Abram as he is still called in this week?s passage) comes at the top of the tree and gets called things like ?the father of faith? or the ?patriarch of patriarchs?.

One of the things that I always ask people who are drawing up family trees is whether they have come across any black sheep in their list of relatives ? for they always make more interesting stories than those who live quiet lives. However, this can make those who are very proud of their family heritage feel a little uncomfortable.

When we read this story of Abram this morning, perhaps we feel a little discomfort. Indeed, I rather hope that we do. For Abram is, to say the least a rather controversial figure in the way that he is presented.

Here are the problems:

? He comes from Iraq, to take the land which we might call Israel away from those who own it.
? His justification for this is that God told him so.
? He owns slaves
? He believes in a carnivorous God who seems to want the blood of animals, when the blood of human beings is not being shed in his name.

All this must give us pause for thought. Putting such a person at the top of our family tree is problematic. We have little time for land-grabbing leaders invading and capturing land in the middle east. We have little time for blood sacrifice. We have little time for those who would justify slave owning and the exploitation of women in the name of God. And the record of Abram?s relationships with women is particularly horrific. In short, as modern people looking back into the past, we do have a problem.

The language of patriarchy has infected the church and I dare say those other tribes who claim Abram as father, down the decades and caused untold damage to God?s people and God?s land. Reading the bible uncritically is a part of the problem. Reading the bible without asking hard questions perpetuates the problem. Reading the bible as though God were on the side of one tribal leader and not another is dangerous because unless we hold ourselves in check, we find ourselves doing the same thing.

If we read the bible like that, we can justify all kinds of things which are wrong. Stealing land. Exploiting women. Shedding blood in God?s name.

These things are not Godly. They never were. Not even when Abram did them. Isn?t there a better way to be?

The patriarchal mindset is religion?s shame. It is one of the reasons that people in the world just the churches harshly. Not least for they think that we are all preaching the same stuff all over again.

The interesting thing about this morning?s gospel is that Jesus challenges that whole mindset. You can hear the note of lament in his voice when he cries over the violence done to people in the name of Jerusalem. You can hear the sadness. The lament. The anguish. The prophets were killed there. Those who possessed the city stoned those who did not.

Jerusalem, Jerusalem. The stones are still flying in Jerusalem.

How often, says Jesus, How often have I desired to gather your children ? all your children ? together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings ? and you are not willing!

And all this comes just after Jesus has said that they shall come from the east and from the west and the north and the south and sit down in God?s commonwealth.

What kind of family do you think you want to belong to? Descended from the line of violence, aggression and bloodshed or gathered with the rest of the brood, safe and secure under the warm wings of the mother hen.

Who are you? What is your inheritance. Who are you?

Part of Abram?s line?

One of Jesus?s brood?

The images which attract us are important. Some of those which come to us in the bible are no use now.

Patriarchy. Hierarchy. Male dominance. War. Violence

Safety. Security. Warmth. Comfort. Care.

We have choices to make.

This is a clear case where Jesus turns his face away from the hierarchy ? away from Herod and his scheming ? away from claims about land and kingship ? away from those who have done violence in God?s name ? away from those who have killed the prophets and thrown stones in God?s name.

There are better ways to be.


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